/ Food & Drink

Will veal catch on with British meat-eaters?

Veal – it’s a controversial meat, marred by animal welfare issues. But if it was sourced ethically from British suppliers and sold in supermarkets, would you put it on your menu? That’s what Jimmy Doherty wants.

After several animal welfare organisations raised awareness of the inhumane production of veal, where calves were kept in confined crates and exported live to the continent, veal sales nose-dived in the UK. Now veal only makes up 0.1% of the meat we eat in Britain.

Veal crates were banned in the UK in the 1990s and a Europe-wide ban followed in 2007. Still, veal sales have never recovered and you’ll find it tough to track it down in the shops. And although Tesco imports German veal, British veal is off the menu – until early next year.

Tesco will begin to stock British ‘rose veal’ from 2013. Why rose veal? Well, because it’s pinker than the pale meat you might find on the continent, where calves are fed a restricted milk diet.

Slaughtered male dairy calves

In some ways, eating rose veal could be more ethical than not. It all comes down to where the calves come from – they are somewhat a by-product of the dairy industry.

Jimmy Doherty, who promotes rose veal in tonight’s episode of his Channel 4 show Giant Supermarket, is trying to expose the ‘hidden scandal’ of male dairy calves being shot.

You see, our love of milk and cheese comes with the uncomfortable truth that dairy cows are kept constantly pregnant. And while female calves grow up to become milk providers just like their mothers, male calves (if they’re not good for beef) are often killed straight after birth.

The most ethical answer to this problem is simply not to eat dairy products. However, it’s unlikely that a nation of meat-eaters will make the switch. Instead, as Jimmy and campaigning groups suggest, we could prevent thousands of male calves being shot and promote veal as a viable meat.

Rose veal = young pink beef

British rose veal has already had an ethical stamp of approval from the RSPCA and the animal welfare charity the Compassion in World Farming. And calves aren’t actually as young as you might expect. In fact, it’s suggested that it might be more accurate to call veal ‘young beef’. Jimmy, who’s raising veal calves on his own farm, told the Guardian:

‘It’s not about eating day-old baby cows – if you think that we slaughter chickens when they are 42 days old, lamb at five to six months, and pigs at five months – then at six to eight months, rose veal is the oldest of the lot.’

As for me, I’m known for eating almost anything (unless it’s mayonnaise), so I haven’t consciously steered away from veal. However, I would never have gone on a mission to find it in my local supermarket. Like foie gras, it’s not a product I’m totally comfortable with.

But after reading about how rose veal is pretty high in the welfare ‘steaks’, I might look out for it next year. So, will veal make it on to your shopping list?

Would you eat veal?

Yes, but only if it's ethical British veal (64%, 400 Votes)

No, I don't like the idea of veal (15%, 94 Votes)

Yes, where ever it's from (13%, 82 Votes)

No, I'm a vegetarian/vegan (8%, 50 Votes)

Total Voters: 627

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Eating UK or rose veal and increasing the demand for it is the best way of reducing the export of calves or culling of male calves.
If you want to reduce this waste canvas your butcher or supermarket for UK veal or stop using dairy products altogether

Jonny says:
29 May 2012

“More ethical’ is a term that I am not comfortable with. The notion that is better to kill an animal when it is 6 to 8 months old rather than one day old, baffles me. For me, both options are wrong. To argue that it is better to have existed for 6 to 8 months than one day seems quite flimsy. All this suffering and debate because of the crazy need to drink cow mammary juice.

Judith says:
4 June 2012

Thank you! The fact that we think drinking the milk of another species is best for us is ridiculous. Countries with the highest dairy consumption also have the highest rates of osteoporosis. It’s obvious it’s so unhealthy for us, and that includes all other animal products. It’s disgusting to think that it’s somehow “compassionate” to let an animal live a few extra months before he’s killed.

Justine says:
7 June 2012

I don’t want to get into the rights and wrongs of the issue of meat eating and/or drinking milk, I just wanted to explain the ‘ethical’ bit. Rose veal is more ‘ethical’ than ordinary veal because the animal is not crated in the dark and force fed milk as is the case with ordinary veal. Rose veal calves are free range.

That is why it’s called more ethical, because of the way it’s reared.

Itseasytohaveideals says:
12 June 2012

That’s because you are a black and white thinker, and not capable of shades of grey, which is what life is actually like. What are your crazy needs by the way….do you eat rice? Do you know how much suffering goes into producing that? Women and children bent over breaking their backs so you can have your rice cakes?

I thought that rose veal calves are fed a rather poor diet and had little opportunity to exercise, even though they are not treated as badly as white veal calves. If the RSPCA is happy with this then perhaps we should not worry.

I don’t see that the age when an animal is killed is significant.

Gerry74d says:
29 May 2012

If We can promote British meat from our farmer’s, reducing the carbon foot print on the products on the shelf aswell as increasing the value and taste being fed to our families I for one would stand by this product. Even the filled meatballs looked great if these are not brought onto the shelves I might just be pushed to try and buy Veal from my local butcher and try to emulate what jimmy’s done.
Just tell me where I can buy ‘Jimmy’s Veal’ ?

Catherine says:
29 May 2012

After watching Jimmy’s programme it has opened my eyes. I will definitely be making it a priority to buy British rose veal in the future and we should all be more aware of where are meat comes from and how it lives before we buy it. I am glad that someone has spoken out about this issue and I believe the supermarkets should take more of a responsibility. I am only 19 and a student at University and if me and my friends are willing to pay a little more for meat sourced responsibly then everyone should be, even if this means eating less meat but of a better quality I think it’s worth it. I do understand that it is more expensive but if we’re willing to eat the meat we should care about its welfare before it reaches our plates.

Mr Me says:
29 May 2012

Good though provoking programme this evening, I will certainly try rose veal and support it. Sustainability can only help, forget daft comments like those from Jonny.

Mr Me says:
29 May 2012

Thought provoking even! Doh!

mmap says:
30 May 2012

It has been a frustration for me over many years that it is so difficult to buy veal meat in British shops. I love cooking Italian recipes where veal is used in many fabulous ways. The usual British compromise of using pork is an unsatisfactory alternative. A few years ago, having seen a boastful Morrisons advertisement about how wonderful their butchery counter was (sort of back to good old fashioned quality etc) I went into a refurbished store and had the temerity to ask if they had any veal escalopes. The “butcher” looked at me askance and said in a loud voice “it is not our policy to serve that king of stuff”. Of course I’ve never been back, but what an ignorant attitude. Unfortunately, small local butchers where I live are no better. They all seem to be terrified of the animal rights fanatics.

I am very keen to makes sure that all the meat I consume is sourced as locally as possible and definitely from the UK where the welfare standards are high and more likely to be adhered to.
However so many ready meals and prepared products do not state the origin of their meat – I would encourage those who agree to pester the producers and supermarkets/shops for this information so consumers can make an informed choice.

I like the picture with the baby calves in the supermarket. Good job it’s done using Photoshop and no animals had to see their fate as packaged meat. 🙂

No surprise we import from Europe, I think South Park did a good parody of this situation, but it’s obviously a bit close to the bone to describe for this forum 🙂

I’m looking forward to having real veal back on the menu again.
What happens to the bull calves currently being slaughtered? On the law of averages half the calves born each year are going to be male, some are raised as bulls for insemination, many are castrated and raised as bullocks or steers for meat, and the remainder, still young, are determined to be uneconomic [in terms of feed and husbandry] so they are put down. I assume their meat is mechanically recovered and reapppears in our diets in some form or other. Better, perhaps, to let the market in veal develop. As wavechange says above, the age of destruction is irrelevant – although it greatly influences popular sentiment,

I cannot see any reason for objection to changing the sex ratio of calves, though there is plenty of opposition in the case of humans.

Sadly, we can change the sex ratio in fish according to pollution of the water the live in.

Julie Jenner says:
30 May 2012

It is refreshing to read so many positive comments about rearing British dairy calves for veal. This is an issue Compassion in World Farming has been working on for some time. There is some more, interesting information about the welfare of veal calves and the argument to support replacing European veal with higher welfare alternatives if you follow this link

Mike says:
30 May 2012

It may be a silly question, but why cannot these new-born dairy bulls be bred for beef? I understand that they are not of the same quality as some other breeds (e.g. Aberdeen Angus) but surely cheap mince can be got from them?

James says:
30 May 2012

Typical beef breeds have higher growth rates, Dairy calves have not been genetically selected for good carcass and fast growth but for milk production, therefore it is not economical to try and grow a dairy bull calf to beef weight as it costs the farmers too much in feed and maintenance. That is why rose veal is an economic compromise which ensures good welfare for the calves.

I agree with James plus the economics is partly due to the quality of the meat the consumer expects and the price ( relative to feed and labour costs) we are willing to pay .

Sophie Gilbert says:
31 May 2012

I will eat calf-friendly veal (if that isn’t a contradictory concept) in the same way as I will eat hen-friendly eggs for example.

I would like to know a little more about how calves are treated before buying veal. I’m not convinced that we are kind enough to our hens. Being a good parent or guardian involves more than not abusing the kids. 🙂

The fact that the RSPCA has approved British rose veal is a good first step to win me over.

Yes, I think some of the things we have read and seen recently about the husbandry of pigs are very disturbing. Our leading retailers profess total management of the food chain with ethical standards enforced through inspections, yet time and again there is evidence of bad conditions from poor animal welfare through to outright cruelty and vile practices [including within large-scale producers whose meat must be going to the big retailers]. Calves should be treated no worse but no better than pigs or chickens; they should all be treated with care and compassion at every stage in their rearing.

Jenny says:
31 May 2012

Of course it’s a contridiction to say ‘calf-friendly veal’. Why do people think it’s appalling to shot a day old calf in the head but ‘friendly’, ‘ethical’ and ‘humane’ to stun and slit the throat of an eight month olf calf and eat it’s body. Argue all you want about ‘respectful use of the whole animal’ but it makes no difference to the calf what happens to it once it’s dead does it?
I’m glad Jimmy’s making people more aware of the reality of dairy farming but his solution is totally twisted. It you don’t like calves being killed, stop consuming dairy.

Sean says:
31 May 2012

I was totally shocked when i watched Jimmy’s TV show by the amount of male dairy calves that just a handfull of dairy farmers had to deaal with. What an absolute waste of life. I am a big meat eater my self but am big against wasted life. I also enjoy shooting, but would never pull the trigger of my gun knowing i had no room left in my freezer for the meat.

This is just a huge example of how ill educated we are as a nation about the food we eat. I am very much looking forward to seeing rose veal on the supermarked shelves and i hope as a nation we enjoy this meat with a healthy respect for where it comes from.

jp says:
1 June 2012

If you don’t like the truth about the dairy industry then man up and don’t eat dairy. simple. the sacrifice you make eating tasty soya alternatives (which taste better in my opinion) is a million times less than the animal that was tortured its whole life to provide you with your milk, yoghurt etc. Which to be honest isn’t healthy at all unlike the industry and their marketing would like you think, How healthy is it to be consuming the breast milk of another species as an adult human? Just gross when you think about it. The problem is that I don’t think most people have thought a second about it, We should educate all children at school about mass farm production of dairy and meat before raising yet another ignorant generation.

Criticising consumption of dairy products on the basis of animal welfare is fair enough but I do not understand why you consider it unhealthy to drink animals’ milk. Cows’ milk is a better food, overall, than soya milk. Some people are lactose-intolerant, but most are not.

I agree that children should learn about farming. They should also learn that animal proteins are closer in amino acid composition to human proteins, so that we need to consume less compared with proteins from plants or microorganisms.

It’s fair enough to be a vegan but we should be honest to our children. Tell them that humans are omnivores, and that meat and dairy products provide a useful part of a balanced diet, but that no-one needs a lot of meat in their diet. Tell them that some people don’t eat meat or dairy products and the various reasons for this. Why inflict your own prejudices when children should have the opportunity to make informed decisions based on unbiased information?

MariaR says:
3 June 2012

Whilst I appreciate your ‘balanced’ approach regarding consumption of animal products, there are many reasons not to consume them on health grounds alone. See here for info on milk, for example http://milkmyths.org.uk/health-nutrition/health
We have also learned over the years that it is not necessary to consume all the essential amino acids at once to enjoy their benefits.
But the point that so many people that support the veal industry, including the ‘kinder’ rose veal trade, seem to miss is the details – the cruelty of not just engineering a mammal to produce freakish amounts of milk, but of keeping her pregnant in order to be able to do so, then taking away her newborn (male or female) in order so that she can continue excreting milk. Have you ever suffered mastitis and or infections of the nipple? I haven’t, but have heard it’s extremely painful (lots of nerve endings in there). Dairy cows often suffer this. When their calves are born, just like humans, the cow experiences a flood of hormones that serve to bond her with her new calf. The calf should get those hormones from his mother to help him bond and keep him calm, a lot like a human child. When the calf is taken away or shot, This process is interrupted. Both mother and child (if it is ‘lucky enough’ to become veal) suffer terrible amounts of stress. These mothers grieve their losses.
You may think I am guilty of anthropomorphism, but what makes us so different from these mammals when it comes down to basics? The dairy industry is cruel to these enslaved beings. Have pity and see the truth.

I am concerned about animal husbandry but recognise the value of meat and dairy products in the diet of humans. My view is that we don’t need to eat, on average, nearly as much as we do, so I would welcome measures to prevent the suffering of animals.

While I welcome better much treatment of animals used to provide food, avoiding waste, and cutting down the amount we consume, I don’t think it helps to provide a link to any website or other source of information that is so biased as the example you have given. Yes, cows’ milk should not be fed to babies if mother’s milk is available, yes there are some problems, but it is a good source of nutrition that has been used for many years. I think we need evolution rather than revolution.

Judith says:
6 June 2012

Go to google, and type in “osteoporosis countries with highest rates”, and you’ll see that England, Sweden, and the United States are amongst the countries with higher levels of osteoporosis AND also have high rates of milk consumption.

This is the reality: the higher the consumption of dairy products, the more likely people will end up with osteoporosis and/or hip fractures. If you want a healthy spine and healthy bones: avoid dairy, and exercise. It’s also a good idea to eat much less meat. I now suggest to family and friends to try eating vegan 4 days out of 7. A few people have been doing that and are thrilled with how much better they feel. No more aching joints, and some weight loss too!


There is considerable evidence that dairy products are an important source of dietary calcium, needed to prevent osteoporosis. What about other factors such as load-bearing exercise and other differences in diet? In order to prove your hypothesis you will need a lot more than a few Google searches.

I can find nothing in peer reviewed scientific journals to support your claim for the benefits of a vegan diet. A vegan diet is nutritionally poor compared with what most people eat, so it is important to avoid deficiencies, including that of calcium. A vegan diet might help in the fight against obesity, and your suggestion of using it part-time would help avoid problems.

Judith says:
7 June 2012

Hello Wavelength,

Studies published since 2010 (not funded by the Dairy Industry), are actually showing that increasing milk and cheese consumption is not preventing hip fractures and osteoporosis. It is a real conundrum for nutritional scientists who believed for a long time that we need calcium from dairy products for bone health. It appears that vitamin D is the primary nutrient needed to prevent osteoporosis, along with increasing our consumption of fruits and vegetables.

As far as the assumption that there are nutrient deficiencies with a vegan diet, that is being challenged by MDs like Dean Ornish, Neal Barnard and John McDougall. They have had phenomenal success with reversing heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, etc. with a low fat vegan diet. And also the book The China Study, written by T. Colin Campbell, an American biochemist who specializes in nutritional research. He promotes a whole foods plant-based diet.


It is well established that vitamin D deficiency is linked to osteoporosis. For many, exposure to sunshine provides the main source of vitamin D. Vitamin D is essential but in excess it is toxic, and there is some dispute about the amount that can be safely consumed. Beware of those health food shops and websites that sell supplements that contain vitamin D well above the recommended daily allowance.

I am very sceptical about books on nutrition. I am not alone in believing that the Atkins diet (which has sold many books) , is ill advised if not downright dangerous. What is on websites and in books needs to be supported by proper scientific research and not just the odd study that happens to show a link between a particular diet and health.

I looked up John McDougall and could not find any articles in peer reviewed journals, just books etc for sale on his website. At least he is not selling expensive dietary supplements, like some others who claim to have the answers to many of our health problems. You will find a fair amount of criticism of ‘The China Study’ on websites. In years to come we will establish whether dairy products are good or bad, or best consumed in moderation. Eat what you want but please don’t believe everything you read, even if there are claims that it is supported by research.

This Conversation is supposed to be about veal and we are very much off-topic, so we should end this discussion before our moderators step in to remind us. 🙂

Judith says:
7 June 2012

Hello Wavelength,

Regarding the criticisms of The China Study, of course the meat and dairy industries will do whatever they can to discredit Campbell’s body of research. I’ll stick with Campbell’s point of view, whose agenda is the truth and not the almighty dollar.

The one thing we can agree on is that we are off topic, but I’m glad we could discuss the issues with dairy consumption and health.

Judith says:
7 June 2012

Hello Wavelength,

It appears I’m not able to post my comment, but I’ll just say that I prefer to stick with Campbell’s point of view. In my opinion, his body of research makes the most sense.

I agree that we are off topic, but I’m glad we could discuss the issues with dairy consumption and health.

MariaR says:
6 June 2012

It is a debate that rages on, but the balance is tipped in the favour of the huge industries that subsidise research and lobby politicians, market their products and put shareholders on health advisory panels etc. I will provide another ‘biased’ link (as if to say any of the ‘widely accepted’ information isn’t biased – just established for so long it is rarely questioned by the general populace): this is from the Vegetarian and Vegan Foundation, specifically with reference to Calcium. Links to peer reviewed scientific papers are provided.

Think about it: if the vegans are right, and dairy really is bad for you, who stands to lose out the most? Do you really think the Government and Industry are just going to say “yeah, alright, we agree – switch to soy milk everyone”?! There is too much at steak (pun/misspelling intended!).
The veggie societies may have an agenda, but it is not a financially motivated one – rather, it is one that seeks to minimise suffering – of animals, of humans (via their health, largely) and of the planet. But money and big business usually wins over. Do you think that vegans have been brainwashed and you haven’t?
Finally, given that cow’s milk has evolved to have nutritional content to help a small calf grow into a rather weighty beast very quickly (compare to a human rate of maturation), surely there must be consequences of us drinking this stuff, especially after we are fully weaned from our mother’s milk? Although some human populations are evolving lactase persistence into adulthood, there are many populations that have not and these are risking their health whilst being regaled with messages from organisations like the Dairy Council….

Yes the link is biased, and it is misuse of science to consider only those references that support a case.

I don’t want to get into discussion about milk again, but there is a very simple solution to lactase deficiency, and that is cows’ milk that has been treated with lactase (beta-galactosidase) to convert lactose (milk sugar) into glucose and galactose. That is what happens when most of us consume milk. In the UK, most of the population have no problem with digesting cows’ milk, so let’s keep this in perspective. Those who are deficient in lactase should avoid cows’ milk, just as those who are deficient in alcohol dehydrogenase should avoid alcoholic drinks.

I am not sure that there is any scientific basis for not eating veal, so it might be better to stick to animal welfare issues.

Judith says:
7 June 2012

Yes, we can agree to disagree. If you are interested, please give The China Study a read, many years of research have gone into the writing of the book. It’s fully referenced.
I was glad to have a discussion without name calling. Cheers, Judith

Thanks Judith.

I have spent my working life in science. I have little knowledge about nutrition but know enough about biochemistry to know that books written for the general public and websites set up by pressure groups are not always as good as they may appear.

If you type in the title of the book you recommend plus the word ‘quack’ you will see that not everyone is convinced that it is a good book. I have not read the book so I cannot offer an opinion. I would rather form my own opinions by reading reviews in peer reviewed journals.

Good health.

Judith says:
8 June 2012

If you look up T. Colin Campbell, PhD, you will see he has a long, distinguished career in nutritional research. Here’s a link that will give you his bio/credentials (click on “see full bio”):

And relying on a google search with the word “quack” is always going to give you opinions that are not based on the truth. The research is clear, we are eating too much meat and dairy, and it’s the cause of chronic disease and premature death.

If you want to read peer reviewed journals on Dr. Campbell’s research, there’s a slew of them, including the well designed studies conducted by Dr. Campbell himself.

I’m assuming that you are not involved in nutritional research yourself, Judith. If that is the case, I’m not quite sure how you can evaluate the quality of research by Dr Campbell or anyone else. I don’t know how you can be sure that his studies are ‘well designed’.

I cannot comment on whether Dr Campbell’s work is good or bad, but would like to point out that his book has attracted a considerable amount of criticism, which might be worth investigating.

Meat and dairy products are valuable sources of nutrition, though most of us eat more than we need and obesity is a growing problem.

Judith says:
14 June 2012

I’m more involved in nutrition than you may realize. I am a health practitioner, a doctor, in fact, if you must know. But back to The China Study. Rather than type in “quack” next to the name of a book when you do an online search, why not, in the interest of being the scientist you claim to be, look up Dr. Campbell at Cornell University. He has had a long and distinguished career. He has published many studies in peer reviewed journals. His body of work has compelled this man, who was raised on a dairy farm, to eschew all animal foods in his diet. The truth is out there, if you wish to learn it.

I had already looked up Dr Campbell. He does indeed have a long list of papers but according to Web of Science, most of them don’t have many citations and many are not relevant to human nutrition. What he advocates is not always novel. For example he is opposed to the Atkins diet, but the dangers are well understood.

From your training, I expect that you are aware of the risk of nutritional deficiencies for humans living on a diet devoid of meat and dairy products. Your high regard for ‘truth’ fits in better with religious belief, whereas looking at biochemistry and other scientific aspects might be more important in the context of human nutrition.

I want to discontinue this discussion, which has nothing to do with veal.